Union fights firing of Tiago over scrap metal
BRIDGEPORT — The union representing Joe Tiago and Jose DeMoura, two public facilities employees fired last month for their alleged roles in the illicit sale of scrap metal, has filed a grievance over the terminations.
“Not only do we deny they have done anything inappropriate, but the discipline issued by the Labor Relations Department was disproportionate and excessive,” said Edward Gavin, the attorney representing the Bridgeport City Supervisor’s Association.
Tiago was the politically-connected deputy public facilities director — he dates Democratic Chairman Mario Testa’s niece — and DeMoura managed recycling for that same department.
Mayor Joe Ganim on Feb. 1 announced the pair had been fired following an internal review of anonymous allegations that city workers were improperly selling scrap metal for cash. The FBI has launched an ongoing criminal probe into the scrap metal scandal and the awarding of no-bid public facilities contracts.
The city has not explained exactly what Tiago and DeMoura allegedly did to jeopardize their jobs, though Tiago has since hired a high-profile criminal defense attorney, John Gulash. He also has a financial tie to one of the contractors — Vaz Quality Works — identified in a federal subpoena of four year’s worth of municipal documents.
The union representing rank-and-file public facilities workers — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — recently told Hearst Connecticut Media that members who hauled truckloads of scrap metal to be sold were cleared of wrongdoing by the Labor Relations Department.
And Larry Dorman, an AFSCME spokesman, added those rank-and-file public facilities staffers had been ordered to sell the scrap metal by unnamed bosses who then collected the money.
“The workers we represent made it clear to city officials that they were following the orders of their supervisor,” Dorman had said.
Gavin on Tuesday said that the firing of Tiago and DeMoura was “in violation of the terms and conditions of the Bridgeport City Supervisor’s Association’s collective bargaining agreement.”
That document outlines a series of warnings that have to be issued to members before they can be let go from the city payroll.
While Tiago and DeMoura were fired, Public Facilities Director John Ricci, a close political ally of Ganim’s and Testa’s, lost two weeks of pay and two weeks of paid vacation.
In 2013, after several years managing Bridgeport’s Sikorsky Memorial Airport, Ricci was fired by then-Mayor Bill Finch for an alleged conflict-of-interest with an area contractor.
Ricci filed a grievance, but then elected to drop it in favor of being allowed to retire.
Two years later, Ricci helped Ganim defeat Finch in the 2015 Democratic mayoral primary, and Ganim, following his election, hired Ricci to run public facilities, which oversees the airport.